Whenever a family member struggles with any serious ongoing condition, everyone in the family is significantly affected. To find out a loved one has a substance use problem can be heart-wrenching.
If you know someone with a substance use disorder, you may find yourself struggling with a number of painful and conflicting emotions, including guilt, shame, self-blame, frustration, anger, sadness, depression, anxiety and fear. Those emotions can often overtake our lives and cause stress, burnout, fatigue, inability to sleep and more issues that can affect our own health.
When you fly on an airplane, the flight attendant instructs you to put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others. Why is this an important rule for ensuring survival? Because if you run out of oxygen, you can’t help anyone else with their oxygen mask. This is an important metaphor for those of us who have loved ones with substance use disorder. A reminder that we need to take care of ourselves.
You may feel overwhelmed, but there are things you can do to help yourself. We all know we need to get enough rest, exercise, and eat right.
Here are a few other things that will be helpful:
Learn all you can about substance use and addiction. Addiction is a disease, not a character defect! According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “As a result of scientific research, we know that addiction is a disease that affects both the brain and behavior. We have identified many of the biological and environmental factors and are beginning to search for the genetic variations that contribute to the development and progression of the disease. Scientists use this knowledge to develop effective prevention and treatment approaches that reduce the toll drug abuse takes on individuals, families and communities.”
Don’t go it alone! Shame is one of the biggest reasons people don’t seek help. It may help you to know that no one, and no family, is immune from addiction. Like any other chronic disorder, addiction to alcohol and other drugs afflicts people regardless of age, income level, educational background, race, ethnicity, religion/spirituality, and community. Many families deal with addiction. You are not alone – there is support!
Know that Recovery is Possible! Although it takes time, people do find recovery from addiction. Many individuals find recovery and continue on to live fulfilled lives. There are many pathways to recovery including 12-step meetings, peer-support, Medication Assisted Treatment, and more.
To learn about more about addiction, to connect with support, and to find resources related to addiction and recovery, visit the GOW Opioid Task Force website at www.gowopioidtaskforce.org.
Co-chair of the Families, Loved Ones, and Allies Work Group with the Genesee-Orleans-Wyoming Opioid Task Force